Senior business execs, not often known to be huge tech enthusiasts, seem to have fallen in love with at least one piece of hardware – the tablet.

More than three quarters of CxOs surveyed have one tablet computer, according to Frost & Sullivan’s survey of European managers. One in five admit to owning two or more tablets, with iPads – unsurprisingly – the most commonly owned device.

Frost & Sullivan principal analyst Adrian Drozd told TechRepublic: “The rise of tablet ownership at the C-level has been rapid; for a device category that has only hit the mainstream in the past two years, the growth has been nothing short of phenomenal.”

Drozd said tablet usage by execs is likely to increase, replacing both smartphones and laptops for a growing range applications.

In many organisations, Drozd said, company-owned tablets are being provided to CxO first to test the business value of wider deployment, and broader tablet adoption is likely, especially in areas where mobility is essential, such as healthcare, education and retail, with Drozd adding: “Tablets are likely to extend quickly into the sales functions of many organisations – the combination of power and portability being perfectly suited for conducting business on the move.”

Laptops, and mobile phones before them, started out as heavily restricted perk, available only to senior execs. But eventually as prices came down, they became pervasive.

But I’m wondering if the same will occur with tablets.

It’s true that adoption of new technology often starts with the most senior people in business and then spreads out. As such, the strong interest currently being shown by CxOs fits the standard model of how new technologies spread.

But an alternative view is that tablets have found their business niche as a handy device for execs who have to deal with lots of paper, and salespeople out doing presentations.

Tablets are brilliant devices for the consumption and display of information: in keeping with their consumer market origins, tablets are primarily for content consumption, not creation, at least right now. This may limit how much further they spread within enterprises.

In the past, CIOs could see the benefits of issuing phones or laptops to everyone, but they just couldn’t afford it. I’m not sure that’s the case with tablets.

This is the challenge for tablet vendors who want to crack the enterprise market: explaining why the devices are relevant to all workers, not just to senior managers and sales people.